National Geographic
National Geographic

The Taste of Food Goes Far Beyond the Tongue

The science of taste is hard to illustrate, as National Geographic producer Kathryn Carlson found out recently. Assigned to produce a video to accompany the Science of Delicious article December’s issue of National Geographic magazine, she flew to England to meet with the man whom many regard as the godfather of the neurogastronomy movement, Oxford psychologist Charles Spence.

Spence heads up the Crossmodal Research Lab, where he and his team study how the senses work together to create perception. And taste is heavily reliant on more than just the tongue. “Seventy-five to 95 percent of what we call taste is really smell,” he says.

While their discussion was fruitful, Carlson felt she needed to add a few elements to bring the video to life. But she wanted to avoid typical frames of people eating food and the sound of chewing. “They really gross me out,” she admits.

So instead, she focused on other elements to tell the story of taste—the steam rising off the soup, the sprinkling of fresh-cut basil as a garnish, the sound of a kitchen timer, and a split screen to show how a cake plated on a white round plate is more pleasing to the eye and perceived as sweeter than the same cake served on a black rectangle.

“Sounds, smells and sight. They’re all how we experience taste,” she says.

The Surprising Science of How We "Taste" Food

Check out Carlson’s video below.